Ruby Balloon Floating over Norfolk


Up and away It was 08:00 and the last day before my exams ran out. The last chance to do my supervised solo, crew all present, very little wind on the ground, nice clear skies with clouds moving gently along, 8 knots forecast and a nice friendly person putting smoke up into the sky. Matthew Baker had volunteered to deliver all the documentation to the CAA offices at Gatwick that night.

Unfortunately at about 40 feet the smoke was travelling horizontally. Still I expect this could be one of many mornings when, it looks good, feels good, but the only thing it is good for is standing around seeing how many of us can get a crick in the neck watching the wind. Sound guidance from Paul Hutton leads to a day labouring in the garden.

Well I'll just have to take the exams again.

After a few interesting discussions about, would I need to take air law again before I did my solo, as I had passed the exam and the Instructor's manual only says a pass , or did I have to retake it before the solo became a moot point. Mike Gunston had rung up the CAA only to find that because we are coming into line with Europe that the exams would be valid for 2 years from January 2000. Whoops, mine were taken in January 1999; they then offered to gave me a months grace to do the solo!!

Stunned and amazed, another flyable (?) week-end slot looms. Everybody out!!!!! Forecast under 5 knots, light and variable. Could I ask for more? I might not travel far but at that speed even I could land without being dragged through three hedges.

Sunday morning bright and early the convoy pulls up at "The Flower Pots" in Cheriton, an excellent pub with fine beer....., but I digress. Another PUT, Martin Mould and his team is already there and the gate is soon opened.

The helium balloon seems to go straight up, but it will give me a chance to practice contour flying a 1000' feet.

A nice inflation, remembering to lead with liquid, don't lay out the envelope until the basket is secured to the car and the envelope to the frame. With Stephen Danks and Jack Reddall leaning nonchalantly on the basket, a passenger briefing for the instructor, Mike Gunston, a last minute photo call for the ever supportive Fiona and then a gentle lift off.

Some quick revision and the question "Was I confident to go solo?" Nearly took his hand off above the elbow, still it took practically another 5 minutes before we had crossed the road so I could drop Mike off and go on.

Slowly lifting off on my own, I look back and waved to the crew who are barely 400 yards away. Up to a safe height and over the power lines. Getting involved in a race with a dog walker would raised the level of excitement by several notches but alas this was not to be.

A quick call to the retrieve to let them know that that large hovering object they were watching from less than half a mile was me. Eventually I was clear of the power lines and having hunted for a breeze all the way up to 1000' it was time to practice a few approaches.

A pause at 500' to let a deer move on and then down to 3'. Shame about the rise up to 20' but it's a good chance to practice with the rip-line. At a speed an energetic mouse could have kept up with I swept across the field. Obviously this is the thing to do as the second balloon followed me into the same field.

Half an hour is up so if I can get down safely I'll be the proud possessor of a rather nice purple book. Eventually after another half a mile and half an hour I miss the only grass field by 20 odd feet both laterally and vertically. Still I get to indulge in the much maligned sport of yelling one thing to the ground crew and then doing another.

Climbing suddenly gives a 90 degree right turn and now 4 grass fields half a mile away could be on. Sadly, when the wind then drops and stops and there is no left at low level, one can only admire them from a distance. After an hour and a half I decided the retrieve must be getting bored and enough is enough. So it is down to terra firma and the end of a wonderful experience.

Just two things, where did the other balloon go to and add another point in the retrieve crew briefing of "In the rush to leave the field do check the children are in one of the cars."

My thanks to everyone who has helped train and support me over the last 2 years and to David Triggs for "finding" the children!